Bear the Beams of Love
by Timothy J. Mooney
I have heard some people say that the calling of a pastor is “to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comforted.” I might be doing a little of the latter, today. So one, or maybe two, things I say today, might offend some of you: I ask forgiveness in advance. What a great way to start a sermon, eh?
Author Gerald May quotes the poet William Blake, who wrote this simple line:
And we are put on earth a little space
That we might bear the beams of love.
May then goes on to suggest there are three different ways for us to bear the beams of love:
to endure love,
to carry love,
to birth love.
It occurs to me that Jesus bore the beams of love in these three ways. 1) He endured the consequences of living life according to his vision of the Kingdom of God, consequences that caused him to bear the suffering of the beams of the cross. 2) Everywhere he went he carried an infectious love with him. 3) And he birthed love within the lives of others.
But bearing the beams of love was not his task alone. He asked us to bear the beams of love, too: “Pick up your cross and follow me,” “You are the light of the world,” “Love one another as I have loved you.” What might it mean for you and me to bear the beams of love? What might it mean for us to endure love, to carry love, to birth love?
To endure love means, in part, to suffer under its beauty. Have you ever been overwhelmed by Love’s beauty? It’s almost more than the heart can bear. Romantic or erotic love absolutely knocks us off our feet, but God’s all embracing, agape love is breathtaking. God’s love changes the way we see everything. Every particular thing in the world is valuable, and your heart nearly bursts at the depth of Love’s reality. We cannot bear these moments for long, because this overwhelming Love “hurts so good,” as John Mellencamp’s old song suggests. Sometimes it seems this kind of love is too good to be true. But this is why we call it the Good News. This is how God loves us, and loves the world.
We are put here on earth to develop a greater capacity to endure the beauty of God’s love for us, others, and the world. Love is the deepest truth we live in, as the Apostle Paul said, God is the One “in whom we live, move, and have our being.” We are in God’s love like fish are in water.
So we are here to endure Love’s beauty. But more often, it seems, we find ourselves having to endure Love’s pain. Occasionally we have experiences of God’s overwhelming love and beauty, but day-in and day-out, we are more apt to experience the desire for love, the longing for love. It’s a sense of incompleteness that never goes away. Some say that this desire for God’s love is the sign that we’ve already tasted it, and we want more of it.
Several years ago I attended a Taize Service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. As I was walking the Labyrinth, I longed for that touch of God’s presence, but nothing happened. After the labyrinth, I sat in a pew in that beautiful cathedral, aware of my longing for God’s Love; it felt like I didn’t have any of it. The musicians began to sing a chant, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” and I began to sing along because I wanted to feel that mercy. Then, suddenly, I found that I had changed one letter in the words of the song, and found myself singing, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, has mercy on me,” and everything changed. I realized that mercy was always true, whether I felt it or not.
We long for Love – for ourselves, for others, and for the world. The desire is strong, and its ache is difficult to endure. The temptation is to bury that ache with humor, work, drugs, alcohol, busy-ness, distractions. But if we look beneath the surface, the desire for love still pulses. We are put on earth a little space to develop a greater capacity to stay with this desire for love, to honor it, and to act according to its call on our lives.
We endure love’s beauty; we endure its pain, but we are also called to endure the difficulty love gets us into.
We endure love’s beauty; we endure its pain, but we are also called to endure the difficulty love gets us into.
A few years ago a pastor, quoting scripture, suggested that Jesus never came to bring peace, but a sword. But his interpretation is off. Jesus bore the beams of love in all that he did and in so many ways those beams were beams of light. But Jesus was quite aware that the love and light he bore would be seen by the religious and imperial powers as a threat. His preaching about the Kingdom of God, and the love of God, criticized the political and religious order. His love was interpreted by them, as a sword. The result? Jesus bore the rough-hewn beams of the cross.
If we bear the beams of love, we, too, will not bring peace, but a sword, or at least it will be interpreted that way, by some. Love, more than likely, will get us in trouble. Today we are asked to endure the beams of love in a difficult way. The reality of religious extremists, terrorist tactics, and political acrimony in our world seems to suggest the only recourse is to act aggressively and militarily. Yet love suffers when there is war, destruction, and death. To endure the beams of love means we are willing to move towards love and justice in each moment, even if it means enduring criticism. Love refuses to settle for easy answers; Love refuses to check out. Love endures complex situations until it finds a way toward justice and peace for the many, for the world.
Listen to the way Gerald May describes what it means for us to bear the beams of love in a loving way:
“[We] enter a gentle warfare against immense internal and external forces. The enemy is that which would stifle your love: your fear of being hurt, the addictions that restrict your passion, and the efficiency worship of the world that makes you doubt the value of love. It is warfare because these forces are very real and very threatened by love. They will fight to keep their power. But the warfare must be gentle on your part; your only weapon is love itself…Love can never be used. It can only be embraced and trusted. Love does not conquer all, because conquer is the wrong word entirely.”
Anne Lamott, a Christian author with a wicked sense of humor, wrote something over a decade ago that demonstrates what it means to endure the difficulties Love gets us into. She struggled with our complex war-torn world, and how to respond; and she knew her response was a mixed-bag. But she was trying to do what Love would do. You might not agree with her politically, so I ask you to listen to how she genuinely tries to let Love be her deepest guide.
Maybe I’ll just tell you what I am going to do today. I am going to pray that our soldiers come home soon. I am going to pray for the children of American and Iraqi soldiers, for the innocent Iraqi people, for the POW’s, for humanitarian aid, and for our leaders. I am going to pray for the children in America’s inner cities. And I am going to pray to forgive one person today, a little — just to give up a soupcon of hostility. Maybe a couple of tablespoon’s worth. I am going to pray for the willingness to forgive someone today – George Bush, or my mom, or me–even though I do not expect it to go well. It hardly ever does. It is not my strong suit.
Miracles take money, so I am going to send a hundred dollars to people I trust — Doctor’s Without Borders, Clowns without Borders and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who speaks for me. I am going to ask her to send it to someone who is nurturing children in the inner city because this country’s poor kids will be hardest hit by war-time cutbacks. I am going to send money to Howard Dean. I am going to buy myself some beautiful socks, and buy my son some new felt pens.
I am going to pray for George Bush’s heart to change, so that he begins to want to be a part of the human family. He really doesn’t want to gather at the table with God’s other children, because he might have to sit with someone he hates. Iraqi soldiers, or someone like me. I really, really know this feeling. It is something he and I have in common. But I don’t think Bush believes that all people deserve to be fed, and I do. Pretty much. He believes in serving the poor, if they are the deserving poor. But I am going to pray for him to be okay today, to feel loved, and to be fed because I think that if you want to change the way you feel about someone, you have to change the way you treat them. I’m going to try and treat him better. Maybe I will send him a little something; socks perhaps, or felt pens. Or balloons. He’s family. I hate this, because he is a dangerous member of the family, like a Klansmen. To me, his policies deal death and destruction, and maybe I can’t exactly forgive him right now, in the classical sense, of canceling my resentment and judgment. But I can at least acknowledge that he gets to eat, too. I would not let him starve, and I will sit next to him, although it will be a little like that old Woody Allen line that someday, the lion shall lie down with the lamb, although the lamb is not going to get any sleep. That’s the best I can do right now. Maybe at some point, later, briefly, I will feel a flicker of something more. Let me get back to you on this.
We endure Love’s beauty, Love’s pain, the difficulties Love gets us into because Love runs up against religious and political authority. Perhaps Jesus shows us best – even when he was being crucified by political and religious power, he continued to love them and forgive them.
So much for enduring the beams of Love.
To bear the beams of Love means we are also to carry Love. We are called to carry love with us wherever we go. Gerald May says, “We carry love like children carry laughter.” Love is not something in our arms, but something in our souls. It is not so much learned, as it is caught, like a cold. Love is infectious. Love, if it is duty, is never caught. But if Love is a passion, it spreads like a wildfire. Even though we are commanded to love, we know that if we do anything with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, it doesn’t ever come across as duty. We’re invited to love like a child playing a game, like a child laughing.
In college, I was a part of a fellowship of Christian Athletes called God Squad. One spring we were playing an intramural softball game against a social club composed of party-hardy jocks who knew they were about to beat us silly. My friend Steve, nicknamed Cricket, a short stocky wrestler who had long blond hair and a ZZ Top beard, gathered us on the pitcher’s mound for a pre-game prayer. He prayed loud enough so the jocks could hear. The jocks smirked as if to say, “Self-righteous Christians!” Cricket prayed for a good game, good sportsmanship, no injuries, and then added, “And most of all, God, we humbly pray…that we kick their asses!” We erupted in laughter, as did the jocks, who – over time – felt especially loved by Cricket who showed us all how to carry love like children carry laughter. Can we carry love like it’s laughter? Because in the end, it’s always laughter: God’s preposterous love for all.
Finally, to bear the beams of love means to birth love. I’ve not had any experience with this, but I’m told that giving birth is pretty difficult. I’ve heard women say, they don’t so much give birth, as yield themselves to the birthing process. The child within has a life of its own and will be birthed when it’s ready. Mary birthed love when she said, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
We are so achievement oriented. We think we are in charge of birthing love! Rather, we make ourselves available for Love to be born in us. We receive Love. Love is always a gift. But we are so busy! Or busy defending ourselves. To bear the beams of Love, we must make room for Love to be birthed in us.
“And we are put on earth a little space, to bear the beams of love.” The way we endure love, carry love, and birth love, is – initially, and then continually – to say “Yes,” to Love.
Believe, trust, faith, is simply a way of saying “Yes,” to the Love that Jesus endured, carried, and birthed. What would happen if we gave Love a little room? A little room right now? Give Love room in your heart and mind. Don’t force it. Just clear some space within you for Love. Say “Yes” to love. What is it asking you to endure? How does it want to be carried by you, in you? What does it want to give birth to in you? What do you notice when you say “yes” to love? Amen.